The South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA) has compiled a fact sheet outlining the drawbacks of the packaging solutions being presented as alternatives to PET bottles.
PET, the recyclable and food-grade plastic most often used for beverage bottles, is often criticised as the cause of the plastic waste that pollutes our environment.
As a result, there are various alternatives being touted to consumers, manufacturers, retailers, hoteliers and restauranteurs, including biodegradable and compostable plastics, cardboard or paper bottles or cartons, cans, and glass recycling or refilling.
But, as SANBWA is making clear with this fact sheet, the solution is not as simple as replacing PET with one of these alternatives, no matter what the people who sell them say.
This is South Africa, and we need to seriously consider how these alternatives perform in a South African context, not Sweden, Germany, Japan, Australia or the UK and USA, they argue.
SANBWA CEO, Charlotte Metcalf, put her points forward: “Forgetting for a moment that people litter, not inanimate objects which have been made to be recycled, it is important to consider the following.
“One; pre-Covid lockdowns, 503 600 tons of plastics waste was collected for recycling in 2019. Of this, more than half (362 800 tons) was packaging. According to Plastics SA, the country’s input recycling rate for all plastic was 45.7%.
“Two; South Africa’s recycling ecosystem, when it comes to PET, is an even more efficient system. According to PETCO, 62% of all polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic placed on the market in 2019 (pre-Covid) was recycled. This fell during the Covid lockdowns and people movement, including collectors, was restricted. Collections have risen in 2022.
“Three; South Africa’s recycling ecosystem, in general, is not set up to handle the packaging alternatives currently making waves overseas. To recycle or process biodegradable and compostable plastics, and cardboard or paper bottles and cartons, would require considerable investment in new equipment and infrastructure.
“If this investment is not made and these alternatives are used, they will simply go to landfill. Why waste packaging material to degrade into microplastics and generate carbon dioxide – the very things we are trying to avoid in the first place?
“And four; glass refilling systems are not as green as they are made out to be given the amount of water they use, and further do not comply with South Africa’s food and beverage legislation. While tins do conform to food and beverage legislation and are recyclable, the energy required to make them and recycle them is exorbitant.
“Our fact sheet simply highlights the pros and cons when it comes to beverage packaging alternatives in South Africa.
“Also included is a summary of the results from a study conducted by Trayak LLC, a packaging design and manufacturing consultancy based in the USA, into the most sustainable packaging option for beverages plus a report into the climate impact of plastics by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.
“The authors of this paper concluded that plastics are frequently maligned when it comes to leakage to the environment, toxicity, use of resources, production emissions, and ocean pollution. Finally, we also provide links to several credible articles so that people who are concerned about making the right choice and make an informed choice,” said Metcalf.
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